People of the Philippines vs Jose Vera
65 Phil. 56 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Equal Protection – Probation Law
Separation of Powers – Undue Delegation of Powers – Power to Pardon
Constitutionality of Laws – May the State Question Its Own Laws
In 1934, Mariano Cu Unjieng was convicted in a criminal case filed against him by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). In 1936, he filed for probation. The matter was referred to the Insular Probation Office which recommended the denial of Cu Unjieng’s petition for probation. A hearing was set by Judge Jose Vera concerning the petition for probation. The Prosecution opposed the petition. Eventually, due to delays in the hearing, the Prosecution filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court alleging that courts like the Court of First Instance of Manila (which is presided over by Judge Vera) have no jurisdiction to place accused like Cu Unjieng under probation because under the law (Act No. 4221 or The Probation Law), probation is only meant to be applied in provinces with probation officers; that the City of Manila is not a province, and that Manila, even if construed as a province, has no designated probation officer – hence, a Manila court cannot grant probation.
Meanwhile, HSBC also filed its own comment on the matter alleging that Act 4221 is unconstitutional for it violates the constitutional guarantee on equal protection of the laws. HSBC averred that the said law makes it the prerogative of provinces whether or nor to apply the probation law – if a province chooses to apply the probation law, then it will appoint a probation officer, but if it will not, then no probation officer will be appointed – hence, that makes it violative of the equal protection clause.
Further, HSBC averred that the Probation Law is an undue delegation of power because it gave the option to the provincial board to whether or not to apply the probation law – however, the legislature did not provide guidelines to be followed by the provincial board.
Further still, HSBC averred that the Probation Law is an encroachment of the executive’s power to grant pardon. They say that the legislature, by providing for a probation law, had in effect encroached upon the executive’s power to grant pardon. (Ironically, the Prosecution agreed with the issues raised by HSBC – ironic because their main stance was the non-applicability of the probation law only in Manila while recognizing its application in provinces).
For his part, one of the issues raised by Cu Unjieng is that, the Prosecution, representing the State as well as the People of the Philippines, cannot question the validity of a law, like Act 4221, which the State itself created. Further, Cu Unjieng also castigated the fiscal of Manila who himself had used the Probation Law in the past without question but is now questioning the validity of the said law (estoppel).
1. May the State question its own laws?
2. Is Act 4221 constitutional?
1. Yes. There is no law which prohibits the State, or its duly authorized representative, from questioning the validity of a law. Estoppel will also not lie against the State even if it had been using an invalid law.
2. No, Act 4221 or the [old] Probation Law is unconstitutional.
Violation of the Equal Protection Clause
The contention of HSBC and the Prosecution is well taken on this note. There is violation of the equal protection clause. Under Act 4221, provinces were given the option to apply the law by simply providing for a probation officer. So if a province decides not to install a probation officer, then the accused within said province will be unduly deprived of the provisions of the Probation Law.
Undue Delegation of Legislative Power
There is undue delegation of legislative power. Act 4221 provides that it shall only apply to provinces where the respective provincial boards have provided for a probation officer. But nowhere in the law did it state as to what standard (sufficient standard test) should provincial boards follow in determining whether or not to apply the probation law in their province. This only creates a roving commission which will act arbitrarily according to its whims.
Encroachment of Executive Power
Though Act 4221 is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court recognized the power of Congress to provide for probation. Probation does not encroach upon the President’s power to grant pardon. Probation is not pardon. Probation is within the power of Congress to fix penalties while pardon is a power of the president to commute penalties.
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